Children in care, prospective adopters and young carers can look forward to greater government support after the Children and Families Act today received royal assent.
Under the Act, looked-after children will be able to stay with their foster families until they turn 21, while care proceedings will be subject to a controversial 26-week time limit – intended to reduce delays for children and adopters – and young carers will have the right to much clearer support from their local authorities.
“The Act is all about reforming services for vulnerable children – reflecting this government’s deep determination to give every child, whatever their start in life, an equal chance to make the best of themselves,” said children’s minister Edward Timpson.
“Our adoption reforms will help the 6000 children who need loving homes to be adopted. Our reforms to Special Educational Needs will see a system introduced, which is designed around the needs of children and will support them up to the age of 25.
“For children coming into the care system, the new 26 week time limit for care proceedings will reduce unnecessary delays.”
Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said the Children and Families Act had changed “significantly for the better” since the original Bill drafts.
“ADCS, through its members, has been working with the government and partners to try to shape the Act and plan for its successful implementation.
Local authorities have been trialling ways to turn the legislation into positive changes for children especially in the two key areas of Special Educational Needs and Adoption and Family Justice,” Webb said.
“We welcome these reforms and we think they are more likely to succeed because they have been grounded in our daily work.”
But he warned there is a lot more work to do to make sure the whole Act, including some of the newer amendments, is developed through regulations and guidance to support those on the front line to implement them.
Simon Parkinson, board member of the campaign group Every Disabled Child Matters, said: “The Act is the culmination of over two years work aimed at improving the support system for disabled children and those with special educational needs.
“However, many families are yet to be persuaded that the battles for support will end, and there is undoubtedly more work to be done to ensure that the practice guidance contained in the new Code of Practice is fit for purpose.”
The government is consulting on a series of adoption regulation changes, and guidance for social workers on how to navigate the new system. The Children and Families Act will come into force over the coming months.